Guest Opinion | School Board Member Scott Phelps: The Culture of PUSD Critics

Published : Monday, September 18, 2017 | 5:01 AM

Scott Phelps

A beautiful new middle school at Blair. A beautiful new Sierra Madre Middle School. A state of the art auditorium at Eliot. A state of the art TV studio at Muir. Nice renovations and new additions to McKinley. Beautiful new gyms at McKinley and Washington for the schools and the community to use. A wonderful new gym at Marshall. Etc. And what was the headline in the Star News on 9/12, courteous of an overzealous Citizens Oversight Committee and a reporter who has consistently written the most critical articles she could write about the PUSD? Illegal spending!!!! A stickler committee has uncovered, gasp, that less than 0.1% of bond proceeds was spent on attorney services that they didn’t agree were directly connected to Measure TT. Less than 0.1%. What public or private program can anyone point to where the spending is 99.9% appropriate? Crickets.

This is the culture of the critics of the PUSD. Micromanage down to the smallest fractions of expenses and insist that they are in the right buckets, regardless of the zero practical effect that would have. Insist on perfection or else we will stomp our feet and raise a fuss!

Of course, this has always been true for the critics of PUSD. When in Measure Y the use of construction management companies caused too much soft costs and PUSD staff found questionable spending of a few hundred thousand dollars by those firms on a single contractor or two—about 0.1% of the bond—PUSD referred the matter to the Pasadena PD who refused to investigate, claiming that records were not good enough, although we in PUSD doubt they ever opened the files. And the critics pounced and huge waste was alleged and scandal was a popular word. Under Measure TT, PUSD staff discovered a few consultants not working the hours they said they did. A total amount of perhaps $30,000. An extraordinarily small percentage of the bond spending. We fired them. The critics pounced again. Scandal, scandal, scandal!

Now under our excellent facilities chief, the committee can’t find anything quite as egregious. So they go after legal fees. Paid to firms who represent us on facilities matters during what is not unusual in construction, which is firms suing for more money for change orders or for their losses when we dismiss them or object to their work. Now PUSD has very little facilities funding for normal maintenance, so the overwhelming facilities work that is done in PUSD is through Measure TT projects. But of course, the committee and its notoriously picky board liaison want everything to be in the right buckets. Because of course it is so important that we document each minute of the law firm’s time so as to carefully separate their, gasp, miniscule amount of non-TT related services from their TT related services.

This is the perfectionism of the critics of PUSD. Is the public being well-served by the PUSD in its spending of the public’s Measure TT funds? Yes, as the list of great completed projects shows. But for PUSD’s critics, 99.9% is not good enough, apparently.

Scott Phelps is a longtime member of the Board of Trustees for PUSD

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